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Customize your résumé, cover letter and your interviews based on the needs of a prospective employer.Beat Bieler

The question

For the past 11 years I worked for a large manufacturing company in the Toronto area. The tech downturn was unkind to my employer and downsizing continues to this day on a semi-annual basis. Seeing the writing on wall for manufacturing in Ontario I managed to get into a research role with my employer five years ago. In this role I have been investigating industry-relevant issues and regularly publishing my findings in industry journals.

Three years ago I convinced my employer to sponsor me in pursuit of a Master's of Applied Science with my thesis topic being a deeper and more fundamental look at what I previously published. The results of the combined resources and knowledge of my employer and the university have been excellent. I plan to finish my thesis this spring and submit one article to an academic journal this summer.

I like my job, but the continued downsizing and the completion of my master's makes me think it is time for a change. My partner transferred temporarily from Ottawa to Toronto a year and a half ago so we could start a family and I could finish my master's. Our daughter was born last June and we'll be returning to the Ottawa area this June. I plan to stay home for six months with my daughter and then start looking for a job. I have 16 years work experience as an engineer, but the majority of that is as a manufacturing engineer. How do I put together a résumé that highlights my practical job experience, but still emphasizes to prospective employers that I would like a job doing applied research?

The answer

Congratulations on the birth of your daughter. What a gift to you and your daughter to spend six months with her at home when you move to Ottawa. This will be valuable time for bonding, nurturing, and making new connections.

You need to be recognized for your wise and fortuitous move into a research role over five years ago prior to the economic downturn. Your current employer obviously sees you and your work as an asset to the company. This is, no doubt, why they were willing to sponsor you to do your master's degree.

You are obviously an intelligent and strategic individual who likes to plan in advance for life and career changes. Remember that your résumé introduces you and will hopefully get your foot in the door at the companies where you would like to work. It is you (including your personality, experience, relationship skills and networking ability) that will land your next position. You need to be able to highlight to prospective employers in writing and in person why you are the best person for the applied research position.

You will want to develop a résumé which highlights not only your practical job experience and your applied research experience, but which also meets the needs of your prospective employers. Customizing your résumé, cover letter and your interviews based on the position and the needs of your prospective employer will be key.

Ask for feedback on your résumé, cover letter and presentation style from company and HR officials. Make the necessary modifications. It is good that you know that you would like to focus on getting a job in applied research. That will help focus your search.

Make a list of the companies or organizations that you would like to work for in Ottawa. Do your research on the companies, their products or services and their leadership team. Prioritize the list of companies.

Instead of simply sending the company your revised résumé and cover letter, you will want to try to set up informal information interviews where you can speak to key officials in the companies. Use your personal and professional networks in order to make connections with company officials.

Be open and curious about the companies in the information interviews. Ask about their accomplishments and challenges. Share with the officials some of the information that you have gleaned from your research. Tell them about yourself, your experience and your interest in the company and the work it does. Indicate what you can do for the company in the area of applied research. Ask them to contact you about prospective full time, part-time or consulting opportunities.

You can either leave them a copy of your résumé or send them one with a follow-up thank-you letter or e-mail. Also give them or send them copies of your relevant research articles. The follow-up letter should express not only your gratitude for the meeting but also address the highlights of your conversation, your desire to work for the company, and how your experience in applied research can benefit them.

Remember to take an active role in your career search and not assume that sending a résumé to a few companies is all that you will need to do to land your ideal applied research position. Networking and increasing your visibility in the Ottawa market will be key to landing a new position or career in the city.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting in Vancouver.

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